If you have just made a conscious decision to start creating your own artwork, or if your art teacher is about to flunk you, there is no need to fret. There are many different medias to choose from, so this article will outline the differences between them.
To Paint or Not To Paint
Painting is more than just applying paint to a piece of paper or canvas using a brush; there is an entire science involved. From the paints, brushes, and paper to the myriad of different materials mixed with the paint to create the perfect consistency and color, there are many different decisions to make before investing money into one medium or another. Granted, the material required can range on the pricey side, it is best to make an effort to find out which type of paint is for you.
Oil paints allow for exquisitely detailed painting and are perfect if you want that ‘life-like” approach. I would recommend Winsor Newton or Daniel Smith as they are the most reputable brands. Prices vary but a small introductory set of oil paints by Winsor Newton runs about $60. For someone just starting out, the product is adequate and I cannot stress the word “adequate” enough. When I started oil painting I found that, as with most purchases in life, if you buy cheap you will be getting exactly what you pay for in quality. I would recommend that you purchase individual tubes of oil paints, at most just the primary colors for a start. That way, if you reconsider oil painting, you will not have wasted too much money, considering each tube of Winsor Newton oil paints runs at about $10. If you decide to buy individual tubes, you should notice that oil paints have differing degrees of opacity and transparency and that should be detailed on the back of the paint tubes.
Difficulty: Oils are slightly difficult for beginners simply because, at times, it not easy to get them to do what you would like. It can be very frustrating, particularly if you come from a charcoal sketching background. I had a very difficult time adjusting to using a paint brush, let alone using oil paints. I have discovered that the painting never looks how you want it to initially. The painting tends to resemble what you intended roughly toward the end.
Oil paints do take a while to dry, sometimes up to a year before the painting is completely dry.
Also, as with most paints, they need to be loosened before being applied to the paper or canvas. There are many different additives in the market to choose from.
Materials: Linseed oil is one of the popular additives as oil paints generally contain this oil anyway. If you have ever smelled an oil painting, you will recognize the smell of this oil immediately. Linseed oil changes the viscosity of the paints as well as adding gloss. However, this oil does yellow the paint after time.
Turpentine is a very strong solvent which is used to thin the paints for the undercoat or just to clean your brushes. Due to the harsh fumes that are so overwhelming at times, Turpenoid, an odorless substance, is a quality substitute. If you are sensitive to strong smells , I would seriously recommend you purchase Turpenoid. I have used turpentine before and the odors can be nauseating.
If you feel oil paints might be too complicated because of all the additives, there are “oil paints” that have the oil paint effect but are water mixable. I would appreciate that this makes the process slightly easier but being a purest myself, I have never used them. I think oil paints, being true to their name, should be mixed with linseed oil and/or any of the other traditional additives.
Brushes are also something to take into consideration. Hard bristle brushes are generally the ones used. However, the softer brushes can be used for smoothing paint lines.
To summarize oil paints: Many materials to take into consideration and they are little difficult for those just starting out but if you are up for the challenge then go for it.
Acrylic paint is very versatile because it can be used to create either an oil paint or watercolor effect, depending on your preference. A Winsor Newton Artists Acrylic painting set is about $55 but, as with the oils, you can purchase individual tubes.
The only firsthand experience I have with acrylics is the artwork my sister has created with them. She seems perfectly content with them as she can create a variety of effects and has no need to worry about which additive to add.
Difficulty: They are far easier to use than either oils or watercolor because simply adding water will change the viscosity.
Materials : Water is the only ingredient you really need to add to acrylic paint.
With regards to brushes, it depends on your preference and the effect you are trying to create. Stiff bristles for oil paint effect or softer brushes for the watercolor look.
To summarize acrylic paint: Relatively easy to use and perfect for the beginner… just add water!
This type of painting is loved by the minimalist because very little paint is required to create a beautiful and elegant effect. However, as with oils, watercolor does not always do what you would like it to.
Difficulty: My experience with watercolors was short lived, mostly because I prefer having the option of creating as much or as little detail as I would like in a painting. Watercolor is far harder than oil paints for the very fact that if you make a mistake it is not easy to erase it, if at all. Watercolor does not paint well over itself as it is very translucent, unlike oils. Therefore, it is possible to see the “unwanted mistake” through the watercolor paint.
Materials: I would recommend Winsor Newton Watercolors. As with Acrylics, water is the only substance you really need to add to watercolors in order to change the consistency. There are other additives such as Gum Arabic, which increases the transparency and gloss. Art Masking Fluid is also a popular additive, although this is not added to the paint but instead to the part of the painting which you want to protect. It is latex rubber that dries and waterproofs the area. It can be peeled off after it has served its purpose.
In terms of brushes, like I stated above, it really depends on your preference based on the effect you want to create. However, brushes are not the only instruments you can use to create different effects. My grandmother is a watercolor artist and I have seen her use an array of materials such as salt sprinkled directly on the wet paint in order to create a grainy effect, or small pieces of tissue paper pressed directly onto the wet paint using a brush. Pieces of string or twine also create interesting effects.
To summarize watercolors: Good for the minimalist approach but very difficult to control.
The beauty of black and white: Charcoal and Graphite
If you are someone, like me, who prefers sketching in black, white, and all those shades of gray, then charcoal and/or graphite might be the media for you.
Charcoal and Graphite
Whether you choose to use charcoal or graphite comes down to preference as to the effect you want to create. Both come in grades of hardness although charcoal creates a matte look while graphite has a slight shine to it. If you do not mind getting your hands dirty, both can be purchased as blocks although it is far more common to find graphite in pencil form. I tend to prefer the blocks of charcoal simply because they seem to create the deepest blacks. I have not encountered a charcoal pencil that would create as good an effect. The only pencil that comes close, which I use often, is Faber-Castells Pitt Charcoal pencil of medium grade.
The only faults I find with charcoal and graphite were solved in the Godsend called Wolff’s Carbon Pencils. Charcoal does not go on the paper as smoothly as graphite. However, graphite cannot be used to create that deep matte black effect. Wolff’s Carbon Pencils, ($10 for a pack of 4) combine the best characteristics of charcoal and graphite for a smooth yet matte look.
I started my artistic adventure using charcoal and, years later, it is still my favorite medium, mostly because of the versatility and control. I do not have the same control with a paint brush as I do with a stick of charcoal. I also had the ability to create a sumi-e ink look to a painting using charcoal.
To summarize charcoal and graphite: It is less messy than painting and generally takes up less space. Charcoal is great in order to create a very deep black and graphite is perfect for just simple sketches.
A final point to consider is paper/canvas. There are corresponding types of paper depending on whether you are painting or just drawing. If you choose to start creating artwork you will have to accept that this is a necessary expense. Paper does not run cheap although it is far cheaper than canvas. Canvas is used for painting and can get quite expensive. Therefore, you should make a conscious decision before purchasing canvas for watercolor simply because you will not be able to correct any mistake. Oils, on the other hand, can be painted right over. I have done this a number of times!
So whichever medium you choose, I hope this article helped outline any confusion. Happy painting!